A divided Montgomery County Council changed attorneys Monday and hired the same lawyer that serves the Board of Commissioners, renewing debate over whether separate attorneys should represent the boards.
The council voted 4-3 to appoint Dan Taylor of Taylor, Chadd, Minnette, Schneider & Clutter as council attorney, replacing Rob Reimondo of Capper Tulley & Reimondo.
Jake Bohlander, David Hunt, Tom Mellish and Mark Smith voted in favor of the appointment. Gary Booth, Mark Davidson and Don Mills cast the dissenting votes.
Taylor had served as the council’s attorney until Reimondo was appointed in 2017, when members said they wanted to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest by having the same lawyer advise the council and commissioners.
The same question was raised Monday in the council’s first meeting of the year as board officers and advisers were selected.
“How do you become the legal watchdog for both sides?” Booth asked during a pointed exchange with Taylor. “Do you tell the commissioners one thing and us another when it comes to legal strategy and making sure we’re taken care of and represented properly?”
In true legal conflicts, which are unprecedented, Taylor said, he would remove himself from the case and advise the council to get another attorney.
“That’s never happened as far as I can remember … but if that occurs, there are rules in place that I have to follow,” he said.
A majority of Indiana counties have the same legal representation for the council and commissioners, Taylor added.
Council President Mellish approached Taylor sometime ahead of Monday’s meeting before contacting a majority of the other council members, who he said mostly agreed to changing attorneys. Reimondo said Mellish released him over the phone.
Handpicking Taylor without any discussion from the council is borderline unscrupulous, said Davidson, who said he wasn’t contacted about Taylor.
Booth also raised concerns about the process.
“I’m going to have to agree with [Davidson] that I didn’t like being informed that we are going to recommend Dan Taylor. I thought that was inappropriate,” he said. “Letting Mr. Reimondo go ahead of time, I think, was definitely well out of bounds on that issue, as well.”
Reimondo did not attend the meeting, saying Mellish asked him not to be there. Mellish said Reimondo asked if he should come and that he told Reimondo it wasn’t necessary but that he would remain the council’s attorney up to and until the meeting.
Mellish said there were times Reimondo didn’t have information or was unprepared and would seek advice from Taylor.
“That’s news to me,” Reimondo said. “Tom made it clear to me during our telephone conference when he released me that it had absolutely nothing to do with my work or performance. I have a lot of respect for [Taylor] and we would regularly discuss county matters.
“If there was a legal matter that needed further investigation, I was happy to do so and no issue of my performance was ever raised by any councilman,” Reimondo added, saying he and Mellish got along tremendously.
When he was approached by late council president Terry Hockersmith and other members about serving as attorney, Reimondo said the commissioners, the council and the City of Crawfordsville all used the same law firm.
The county council wanted to select an attorney from another law office. After Hockersmith’s death and last year’s elections, Reimondo said he advised Mellish that even if the council didn’t want him to serve another year members should hire another local attorney to maintain the council’s independence.
“The majority of the council clearly does not feel the need to have independent legal advice and that’s their decision,” Reimondo said. “I’m happy to have had the opportunity to serve the council and the citizens of Montgomery County.”